I have consistently failed to actually post on *my own blog* that the book I’ve spent three years on is finally done, printed and actually available to buy from all good bookstores.
But it is.
And I’ve just seen the first review of it that hasn’t come from my biased family and friends, and that’s from Gavin Brown – who is a rare breed of man who has such technical ability that you can imagine him *seeing* the Internet in the same way that Keanu Reeves sees the Matrix, but is also a friendly and chatty bloke. Gavin told me he’d written a review and I really had no idea whether he would like it or loathe it.
I’m delighted to say he liked it and has written a great review of it on Circle ID.
That pleases me enormously because one of the main aims of the book was to provide some understanding of how the domain name system works that was understandable by normal people (not just us Net freaks) but which also pasts muster with the Internet community. To hear that it is “the best book about the Domain Name system that I’ve ever read” is therefore enormously gratifying.
I’m also very pleased on a different level that the fact that I’d tried to make the book as fair and real as possible was noticed. Yes, it was very easy to make Cohen the bad guy, and Kremen the good guy, but the fact is that the world isn’t that black and white and I don’t see why I should pretend it is just to make a book easier to digest. I know that Stephen Cohen won’t agree though – at least not outside his own head – because anything that accuses him of being anything but an upstanding citizen (with perhaps a blemished record), irks him.
Anyway, I shall be buying Gavin Brown a beer at the book launch on 29 May. If anyone else is in London and wants to come, just email me.
Book Review: Sex.com by Kieren McCarthy
On the face of it, Kieren McCarthy’s Sex.com was a book that could have written itself: a notorious, well-publicised feud over the most valuable domain name in existence, between two charismatic men—one a serial entrepreneur with a weakness for hard drugs (Gary Kremen), the other a gifted con-man with delusions of grandeur (Stephen Cohen). It’s a story replete with vicious acrimony, multi-million dollar lawsuits, and rumours of gunfights between bounty hunters in the streets of Tijuana.
Thankfully, McCarthy wasn’t content to just bundle together all the articles he’s written about Sex.com over the years and slap a cover on the front: the level of detail in his book, and the range of people interviewed, demonstrate that a great deal of painstaking research went into its writing. The result is that Sex.com is the best book on the subject of “internet history” (for that is surely what this story will become) since Where Wizards Stay Up Late, and certainly the best book about the Domain Name system that I’ve ever read. The narrative is compelling, well-informed and highly readable.
McCarthy is not afraid to tackle the quasi-political implications of the Sex.com story, in particular the stranglehold that the old Network Solutions (now VeriSign) had – and continues to have—over the domain name system, and how some of its then employees treated the suspected hijacking of Sex.com with pure contempt—allegedly, even up to the point of threatening physical violence against an expert witness. We’re probably lucky that this book was actually written last year—given his current occupation (as ICANN’s general manager of public participation) it seems unlikely that McCarthy would have produced such a no-holds-barred version of events as he has, had it been written during his current employment.
Apart from all the legal to-and-fro, ultimately this is a story about two men—both intelligent, ruthless and driven – and McCarthy does an engaging job of telling this story from both points of view. Ultimately, Cohen is the villain of the piece, but he’s no cookie-cutter bad guy, and Kremen is by no means an innocent. This book could easily have been a hatchet-job on Cohen, but McCarthy doesn’t make that mistake, and the book is better for it.
A couple of remarkable coincidences are worth mentioning: first, Stephen Cohen attended the Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles at around the same time as Internet pioneers Jon Postel, Vint Cerf and Steve Crocker. Second, one of the reasons that Cohen was sucessful in hijacking Sex.com was that Gary Kremen’s registered e-mail address had been broken into by Kevin Mitnick, the notorious hacker who has himself been the subject of several books.
One final remark: Gary Kremen recently sold Sex.com for twelve million dollars, the largest sum ever paid for a domain name. And what are the current owners doing with it? It’s parked on a PPC ad page.